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Mormon Modesty Makes It Challenging To Find A Prom Dress

Flip through any fashion magazine and you may wonder if there’s a nationwide wardrobe malfunction going on -- no neckline seems too low, no hemline too high. So what do you do if your religion requires a more modest dress code?

The Fuller family lives in Mesa, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix with one of the largest Mormon populations in the world. They moved here from the east coast, where there were far fewer Mormons. Charity Fuller, the oldest of eight kids, felt self conscious there about being different.

"It was hard for me at first," Charity said. "We lived there when I was like 12, just hitting the teenage years. We have a lot of standards. A lot of the time they’d be like, ‘why do you have so many rules. Why don’t you just have fun?’"

One of those rules: for Mormons the body is quote “the temple of God.” Their guidelines say, ask yourself, ‘would you wear this in front of God?’

During prom season it’s especially hard to keep those standards.

Eighteen-year-old Jessica Fuller tries on a long forest green dress to wear to her prom. Cap sleeves cover her shoulders. Fitted at the top, yards of tafetta swirl around her ankles. Her face beams as she twirls.

"Every time I wear it, everyone pay attention to me, I'm a princess," Jessica said.

What girl doesn’t want to feel this way on prom night?

Jessica says she knows other girls will be wearing trendy backless, short dresses but she says she doesn’t want that kind of attention.

"If I cover myself , if I respect myself, if I know who I am then I'll get respect," Fuller said.

Jessica and her family have collected more than 300 used dresses like this one from their church, and created what they call Sue’s Closet. It’s a place where other girls like them can find formal dresses for school dances. (It’s actually their cousin’s bedroom. He’s away on mission.)

Most of the dresses are home made or altered with sleeves, a high neckline, and long hemline.

Some of them are more attractive than others.

It’s not just formal wear that’s challenging. After they become adults Mormons must wear special undergarments. They basically look like a t-shirt and bicycle shorts. And sometimes it’s difficult to find clothes that fit over them.

That’s a fashion opportunity, right? So, Flagstaff fashion designer Samantha Patterson has created a line of casual clothing that does just that and looks good.

"Friends and consumers have been so thankful for someone to realize they need modest wear and fashionable modest wear at that," Patterson said.

She came up with the idea when she went shopping with friends in high school and found they always had to alter their clothes or wear lots of layers. Fresh out of design school she’s really found a niche. Patterson’s been selling her clothes online for about a year.

Back in Mesa, it’s prom night and Jessica Fuller looks like she just stepped out of a Disney movie, her hair pulled back in curls at her neck. Her big brown eyes filled with excitement.

Her date arrives, and Jessica’s siblings watch as her mom Maren takes video of the couple in the front yard posing, smiling wide in green taffeta and a black tuxedo, under a big cottonwood tree.